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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Your Worldview is Showing

It is my observation that theists and their naturalist (i.e. materialist, mechanistic and atheistic) opponents frequently do not really argue WITH each other, they argue PAST one another. They start from different premises and presuppositions refusing to engage each other on any grounds but their own. Like the old "apples and oranges" scenario each approaches the issue from a particular pre-existing metaphysical framework. I think we have all been guilty of arguing from different premises and presuppositions and not seeking to recognise where our opponents are coming from. This criticism is thus applicable to both sides of the debate but it is particularly characteristic of those espousing philosophical naturalism. Indeed it is inherent in that worldview.

Philosophical naturalism is a worldview that rules out a priori anything supernatural. No evidence for the supernatural is sufficient to convince a naturalist because his "closed box" worldview demands that everything be explained "naturally" therefore there can be no evidence for the supernatural. If some “supernatural” event is supposed to have occurred it will need to be explained naturally or not at all. And if not at all then it does not exist: it is a mere figment of the imagination, a fantasy, a myth or the ravings of a deluded lunatic. End of story.

The atheist will often invoke “Ockham’s razor” to support the notion that one must not consider non-natural, non-physical explanations. That this is a misuse or even abuse of William of Ockham’s thought hardly enters the equation.

But how does one explain “naturally” what is by definition above and beyond nature? How can the tools of methodological naturalism grasp, measure or explain things which transcend nature? How do we know that reality is totally encompassed by nature? If physical reality is the sum total of reality, one has no other option than to posit that all non-physical, transcendent values, morals, art, beauty, love, beliefs etc. are the product of physical things and forces. But how does one physically pinpoint goodness or evil, beauty or truth, hope, love or - dare I say it - God? Does one simply dismiss them as illusions?

The inherent arrogance in the physicalist belief system is obvious. For “belief system” is exactly what it is – just like any theist the atheist bases his worldview on foundations which themselves are not open to empirical verification. Of course the naturalist will argue that he doesn't have "faith" or "belief" and is free from dogma and irrationality. “Just the facts, ma'am.” Yes, and pigs can fly! He might as well be an automaton rather than a human being because his belief system attempts to deconstruct the very essence of humanity.

I believe a humble agnosticism is a very admirable position to hold. But I also believe that hard philosophical atheism is often the trap of the arrogant intellectual “skeptic” just as blind faith is the trap of the gullible and naïve “believer”.

The naturalist loudly proclaims that he is a "freethinker", a "rationalist", a "humanist", a "skeptic", (by implication theists can never be any of these things, enslaved as they are to superstitious dogma and blinded by religious authority.) But in reality he is not a genuine skeptic or a freethinker or even a rationalist when it comes to his own presuppositions. These are not open to skepticism, nor are they able to be explained “rationally”. They just are, like the universe…What it boils down to is: he is right and you are wrong. The testimony and witness of millions of theists over the millennia does not constitute evidence to the naturalist because he has narrowly redefined the standard of acceptable evidence to a preconceived narrow bandwidth. Your "evidence" is mere fantasy or wish-fulfillment and ruled out of court.

Being human the atheist still acts irrationally and dogmatically and gets worked up when cherished ideas and beliefs are challenged or threatened. For which we can thank God. Philosophic naturalists continually assert that their views are the result of logic, reason and empirical evidence. Well, I will state my own observation here: I do not believes any human being arrives at any position on the weightier matters of existence, origins, purpose and meaning (and a lot of less weightier matters besides) solely on the basis of logic, reason or scientific evidence. Now I am a great believer in using all three. I believe that a degree of skepticism is essential for making informed judgments. But in being able to function as human beings in both the great and small issues of life we all have to act "on faith". One cannot avoid doing so. Unless one is dead already…

You will notice I said "on faith", but this does not mean that faith is without evidence. Belief need not be blind. Reflective Christian faith is not blind or unevidenced; it is based upon a solid framework of evidences - the witness of history, my own and others experiences of the human condition, my own and others observations of our fellow humans, and my own and others encounters with God. I'm sure atheists "believe" many things using similar principles. They exercise trust and place their faith in a wide range of emotions, intuitions, ideas, relationships, concepts, etc., that have not, or cannot, be tested by their own rigid naturalism. They at very least trust (i.e. have faith in) their own rational faculties – and the judgments and perceptions that flow from them.

There is also the issue of subtext, for what people say and do often reveals deeper psychological motivations and needs operating beneath the surface bravura. One only has to observe the phenomenon among many a committed atheist of his deep need to engage someone, anyone in a debate – even - as I once memorably witnessed - if that person is only Richard Dawkins’ interviewer! As for us all, there are wheels within wheels. Indeed “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing”…

Whatever the deeper motivation, the non-theist's tactic is to constantly demand that the theist operate from the ground rules which he sets – which presupposes philosophical naturalism. This puts the theist on the defensive and allows the atheist to command the debate. The theist of course doesn't deny "science" or reason or logic but he maintains that he has arrived at a position that is valid, true and satisfying - a position not in the least opposed to logic, reason and evidence but certainly BEYOND naturalistic logic, reason and evidence. He has NOT arrived soley on the basis of naturalistic presuppositions and evidences because naturalistic evidences alone can never take anyone there. He contends that we live in an "open box" universe regulated and ordered by the laws of an author/designer, true, but which is open to another level of reality - the level of soul, spirit, psyche - not explainable by the mere cogs of natural existence.

Steve Turner touches on this tension in his "Humanist's Love Poem":

Why don't we try loving each other?
(A strange collection of atoms I am).
Feeling this molecular urge for you
we must chemically react if we can.

We may laugh. Sure we know chemicals and molecules and atoms interact in our bodies but does anyone really reduce love to this interaction? Being in love is accompanied by all sorts of physical, sensations but is it any less a profoundly emotional and transcendental experience for that? Isn't the whole greater than the sum of the parts and isn't the whole not fully explainable as the sum of the parts? But this is just what the consistent philosophical naturalist is proposing: the whole IS the sum of the parts and fully explainable by the parts. Yet I contend that when we are in love even the humanist is a transcendentalist. Ask anyone who has been in love. Well, how does one explain it? All the words of the poets have still not exhausted its mystery.

Do you have children? Remember how you felt when you first held your new born child in your arms. I remember my tears and emotions and my sudden (would you say "irrational") need to thank a creator God. Why don't we stop ourselves and explain these peak moments away as merely the product of interacting chemicals and atoms? Why would we? Why should we? These "rumours of glory" are too profound and precious to be cheapened by rationalisations.

Remember the pride you felt when you graduated from college or won that sporting trophy? The music that brought tears of joy to your eyes, the sad movie that brought a lump to your throat? What is the meaning and significance of your hopes, dreams, ambitions and aspirations? "Tale(s), told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing"? Surely not. Why would you settle for mere naturalisic explanations of the most profound of human experiences? And what about that close brush with death when your life flashed before you? And the loss to eternal nothingness of a loved one – a child, a parent, a partner? Tell me then that we are just collections of atoms.

I am being melodramatic, perhaps, but am I being unfair to the naturalist? No, there ARE different ground rules to deal with such matters for there are places of the human soul and spirit that science, logic and reason do not take us.

I once read an exchange where an atheist invited a Christian theist to jump off a building to prove if naturalism was true or not! Unfortunately this is far too often the level at which atheists pitch their attacks. Such a challenge has nothing to with the validity of either metaphysical position - philosophical naturalism or Christian theism. It is the sort of challenge that may possibly have been usefully thrown at a Hindu or a Buddhist who affirms that all is “maya” or illusion but it is a rather shameless tactic to be directed at one who affirms the reality of the out-there physical universe, the creation of the God – as Christian theists most emphatically do. Try this stunt on an atheist and he would quickly respond with a disgusted post pointing out how childish, anti-intellectual, and "ad hominiem" you are. The theist already knows and accepts that actions in the material world do have material consequences. He AGREES with the the materialist that there are "laws" of nature, but affirms that, in the spiritual or transcendant dimension, of existence such "natural laws" are not adequate explanations.

The theist’s position is that if one makes reason and logic the SOLE basis for deciding all matters of truth and falsehood, fact an fiction, right and wrong, good and evil then on what basis can you trust logic and reason to judge correctly? Why exempt reason and logic from judgment? After all they are mere products of naturalistic processes are they not? How can you trust the evidence of your own senses? What is the basis of your confidence that reality agrees with your perceptions? Does not the atheist naturalist have FAITH in the validity of his own rational faculties; a faith, with no naturalistic support, that those self-same faculties are the ultimate arbiters of truth?

Philosophical Naturalists have to make this big presupposition: 'My mind - my reason and logic - is the only valid ground for making truth judgments but my mind is only the product of a mindless, soulless, natural process for which questions of truth, beauty, love and God are but the actions of “selfish genes”, the interaction of molecules and atoms'. Reductio ad absurdum?

An atheist once said to me, rather surprisingly I thought, that we need to engage both heart and mind in discussions of the “big questions”. Well I see more theists than atheists exhibiting both heart and mind. To the atheist I would say: More heart to match your mind?

And finally a little quote for theist and atheist both from a noted atheist:

"Not even the most tempting probability is a protection against error; even if all the parts of a problem seem to fit together like the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle, one must reflect that what is probable is not necessarily the truth and that the truth is not always probable." Sigmund Freud "Moses and Monotheism"

12:43:00 pm